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Biofortified Pearl Millet varieties to reduce Iron and Zinc Deficiency in Low Economy Countries

Dhanashakti, a new high variety bio-fortified pearl millet has been developed by the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics(ICRISAT)

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Hyderabad, October 15, 2016:  Micronutrient malnutrition because of iron and zinc deficiencies is a serious public health problem in low- and middle-economy countries worldwide.

In India alone, about 80 percent of pregnant women, 52 percent of non-pregnant women, and 74 percent of children in the 6-35 months age group suffer from iron deficiency. About 52 percent of children below five years are zinc deficient.

Iron deficiency causes varying degrees of impairment in cognitive performance, learning ability, lowered work capacity, and pregnancy complications (maternal mortality and babies with low birth weight). Zinc deficiency in children causes stunting, makes them vulnerable to diarrhoea and pneumonia and can lead to death from these infections.

Crop bio-fortification, which refers to the breeding of cultivars with higher levels of micronutrients, is increasingly being recognised as a cost-effective and sustainable approach to overcoming these deficiencies in the food chain.

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Spearheaded by the HarvestPlus Programme of CGIAR (formerly Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research), global crop biofortification research was initiated by several of its centres on 12 crops, including pearl millet. This has led to several success stories based on which HarvestPlus was recognised with the World Food Prize in 2016.

Under the bio-fortification programme, the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth jointly developed a high-iron variety of pearl millet, called Dhanashakti, which was released in 2012 in Maharashtra and later in 2013 across India, making it the first mineral biofortified product of any crop cultivar released in India.

Dhanashakti has 71 mg/kg iron and 40 mg/kg zinc. It was rapidly adopted by farmers, reaching 65,000 farmers by 2015. Dhanashakti seeds are available with Nirmal Seed Company and State Seed Corporations in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

ICRISAT has also developed a high-iron pearl millet hybrid (ICMH 1201), which is being marketed, using Truthfully Labelled Seed (self-certification), by ShaktiVardhak Seed Company under its brand name Shakti 1201.

This hybrid has 75 mg/kg iron and 40 mg/kg zinc (similar to Dhanashakti), but it has more than 30 percent higher grain yield than Dhanashakti. In 2015, Shakti 1201 was adopted by more than 35,000 farmers.

The iron levels in the two biofortified cultivars are much higher than those reported in most of the released and commercial cultivars, which have less than 50 mg/kg iron. The zinc of these cultivars is marginally higher than many of the released and commercial cultivars.

Thus, when talking of pearl millet grains as a rich source of iron and zinc, as commonly assumed, there will be a need to talk in terms of specific cultivars.

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In this context, it should also be noted that these biofortified pearl millet varieties have much higher iron content than the best biofortified rice varieties (less than 5 mg/kg). And many, but not all, also have much higher iron content than the best biofortified wheat varieties (less than 40 mg/kg).

Similarly, many have much higher zinc content than the best biofortified rice varieties (less than 25 mg/kg), but only a few have higher zinc content than the best biofortified wheat varieties (less than 40 mg/kg).

The food uses of biofortified pearl millet varieties will go a long way to reduce iron and zinc deficiencies. For instance, based on feeding trial estimates of 7-7.5 percent bioavailability of iron in whole grain food, and assuming 240 g/day of grain consumption, Dhanashakti and Shakti 1201 would provide much more iron than the daily requirement of 0.84 mg in men, and meet 70 percent of the daily requirement of 1.65 mg in non-pregnant and non-lactating women, and 42 percent of the daily requirement of 2.8 mg in pregnant women. Above grain consumption rate will also provide 80 percent of the recommended daily allowance of 12 mg of zinc.

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Besides reducing the iron and zinc deficiencies, pearl millet has recently been gaining increasing attention as a climate change-resilient and Smart Food crop on account of its high levels of tolerance to drought, heat and soil salinity; and several nutritional traits such as high protein content with more balanced amino acid profile, high dietary fibre, gluten-free protein and phyto-chemicals.

Finally, a word of caution: These biofortified pearl millet cultivars have been developed using natural genetic variability in pearl millet and they are not GMO products. (IANS)

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Scientists Discover A New Method To Fight Alzheimer’s, Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

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Alzheimer's
One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease. VOA
Eliminating dead-but-toxic cells occurring naturally in the brains of mice designed to mimic Alzheimer’s slowed neuron damage and memory loss associated with the disease, according to a study published Wednesday that could open a new front in the fight against dementia.The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals.

Scientists have long known that these dead-beat cells gather in regions of the brain linked to old age diseases ranging from osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis to Parkinson’s and dementia.

Prior research had also shown that the elimination of senescent cells in ageing mice extended their healthy lifespan.

But the new results, published in Nature, are the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect link with a specific disease, Alzheimer’s, the scientists said.

Alzheimer's
A lady suffering from Alzheimer’s. Flickr

But any treatments that might emerge from the research are many years down the road, they cautioned.

In experiments, a team led by Tyler Bussian of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota used mice genetically modified to produce the destructive, cobweb-like tangles of tau protein that form in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients.

The mice were also programmed to allow for the elimination of “zombie” cells in the same region.

“When senescent cells were removed, we found that the diseased animals retained the ability to form memories, and eliminated signs of inflammation,” said senior author Darren Baker, also from the Mayo Clinic.

The mice likewise failed to develop Alzheimer’s signature protein “tangles”, and retained normal brain mass.

 

Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s disease patient Isidora Tomaz, 82, sits in an armchair in her house in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s predicted that by 2050, 135 million Americans are going to suffer from mild cognitive impairment, a precursor of Alzheimer’s. VOA

Keeping zombies at bay

A closer look revealed that the “zombies” belonged to a class of cells in the brain and spinal cord, called glia, that provide crucial support and insulation to neurons.

“Preventing the build-up of senescent glia can block the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration normally experienced by these mice,” Jay Penney and Li-Huei Tsai, both from MIT, wrote in a comment, also in Nature.

Bussian and his team duplicated the results with pharmaceuticals, suggesting that drugs could one day slow or block the emergence of Alzheimer’s by keeping these zombie cells at bay.

“There hasn’t been a new dementia drug in 15 years, so it’s exciting to see the results of this promising study in mice,” said James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society in London.

 

Alzheimer's
The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals. IANS

For Lawrence Rajendran, deputy director of the Dementia Research Institute at King’s College London, the findings “open up new vistas for both diagnosis and therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.”

Up to now, dementia research has been mostly focused on the diseased neurons rather than their neighboring cells.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that other brains cells play a defining role,” Rajendran added.

Several barriers remain before the breakthrough can be translated into a “safe, effective treatment in people,” Pickett and other said.

The elderly often have lots of harmless brain cells that look like the dangerous senescent cells a drug would target, so the molecule would have to be good at telling the two apart.

Also Read: Common Painkillers Triple Harmful Side Effects in Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

The number afflicted is expected to triple by 2050 to 152 million, according to the World Health Organization, posing a huge challenge to healthcare systems. (VOA)